Each time the new year rolls around and I sit down to determine my annual resolutions, I reflect on a lesson that a remarkable college coach once taught me.
In my early 20s, I played basketball for BYU, and Dave Rose was the assistant coach. One day before practice at the Marriott Center, Coach Rose pointed to me and said, "I have noticed, Travis, that you are a rather undisciplined person."
I was stunned and confused. After all, I was the type of person who was a leader and the captain of the team. I prided myself on the ability to work relentlessly toward goals, applying the energy I'd inherited from my goal-driven father.
"There is one problem on this team, and it is your ferocious temper. Your energy level enables your lack of discipline," Rose continued. "Your actions have a tremendous effect on your teammates.”
I thought my passion and hard work on the court was motivating to my teammates. I thought yelling at the referees and showing intensity would help us win, or so I had convinced myself.
He then gave me what I came to call the 25-5 Assignment. It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $25 million, with no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than five years to live.
What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?
That assignment came at a pivotal time in my life, and I began a tradition of creating a "stop-doing list,” which has became an enduring cornerstone of my annual resolutions. It has become a mechanism for disciplined thought, determining much of how I resolve to best allocate the most precious of all resources: time.
That day, many years ago, I determined to stop spending unnecessary energy complaining to referees and, instead, focus on the things I could control.
Rose’s challenge focused me on spending this wonderful energy and excitement for the game on the best parts of the game: my teammates, our game preparation and on working together to win games, reach our potential and be successful.
Rose's lesson came back to me a number of years later as I found myself reading the biography of Steve Jobs. I love Apple products for making my life fun and simple. As I read his biography, I found out that Jobs had been fired by the company he founded, Apple, only to be rehired as CEO 12 years later. Apple was weeks from bankruptcy, and as Jobs began evaluating all the available information and poring over all the statistical data, he discovered he had to make big changes fast.
Jobs, weeks after being hired, told his executive team that he was stopping production on more than 70 percent of the models and products Apple was making and would focus on making a few great products.
Jobs said, “Deciding what NOT to do is as important as deciding what to do.”
So Jobs made the decision to stop, re-evaluate the core businesses and refocus on a few great products. He was determined to make a few great successful products, instead of continuing to be involved in literally hundreds of mediocre products.
This wise leader then put his creative team to work and came up with the iPod and iTunes service. That led them to create game-changing, lifestyle-altering communication devices many of us use every day: iPhones, iPads, iMac computers and so much more.
The start of the new year is a perfect time to start this same refocusing process in our lives. We can create our own “stop-doing list” and make this the foundation of our resolutions. This list might apply to work, family or ourselves and any other responsibilities. It also is a perfect time to ask ourselves some questions.
“Think of these three questions as a personal guidance mechanism,” writes Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” in a USA Today column.
1) What am I deeply passionate about?
2) What am I well suited to do? What do my individual talents lead me to do?
3) What makes economic sense? Can I afford to do it, and will it enrich my life and others' lives?
“As you navigate the twists and turns of a chaotic world, (these questions) act like a compass,” he writes. Like Collins suggests, I am continually asking myself, Am I on target? Do I need to make a slight adjustment in any direction?
“Take an inventory of your activities,” Collins advises. “What percentage of your time falls outside the three questions? If it is more than 50 percent, then the ‘stop-doing list’ might be your most important tool.”
The question becomes, will you accept good as good enough, or, like Jobs, do you have the courage to stop a product line of your own so you can instead focus on where your potential is greatest?
My experiences have led me to understand that those fortunate enough to find or create a practical combination of these three questions form the basis for a successful life’s work, complete with satisfaction, accomplishment and much happiness and joy.
Looking back, I now see Dave Rose as one of the few people I've known to lead a great life, while doing truly great work. His entire life is remarkably simple. His relationships, his home, his schedule all serve to create a simple frame for his life. I so admire him for this and believe it is in large part why he is so great.
Collins ends his article by saying, "A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but, equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit — to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort — that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life."
Travis Hansen is a former BYU, NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and Euroleague basketball player. He co-founded the Little Heroes Foundation and is married with three children.
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